September 26, 2002 1:44 PM PDT

Bioscience deal spurns HP for rivals

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IBM and EMC have landed large contracts to install servers and storage systems at Applera, a major life-sciences company that once relied on Compaq Computer for its complex computing needs.

Under the deal, IBM will install a 12-strong cluster of 32-processor eServer p690 servers that Applera will use to run all of its operations, and EMC will erect a 150-terabyte storage system. In addition to equipment, both computer companies will provide professional services.

IBM is also forming an alliance with Applied Biosystems, a division of Applera that sells software and laboratory equipment to biotech companies, to create and co-market future systems targeted at such companies.

Applera consists of two companies: Celera Genomics, the company that mapped the human genome and now specializes in pharmaceutical design, and Applied Biosystems.

The life-sciences company is one of the principal players in the biotech market and a lost opportunity for the new Hewlett-Packard, said Michael Swenson, a senior research analyst in the life-sciences practice at research firm IDC.

Applera standardized on Compaq Alpha servers and storage systems three years ago, as part of a relationship Compaq publicized in an effort to increase its prominence in the growing field. The bioscience industry accounted for $850 million in high-performance computing sales in 2001 and is one of the fastest-growing segments of the market for high-performance computing.

"Celera was a major reference account for Compaq over the years," Swenson said. "Clearly, they lost the server piece to IBM and the disk-storage piece to EMC."

Although Applera declined to comment, the total value of the contracts should be in the millions of dollars. Each p690 server sells for a list price of $2.1 million, according to IBM. Factoring in discounts, Big Blue's part of the contract probably comes close to $15 million to $20 million, Swenson estimated.

An Applera representative said the switch came about purely out of a need to update the company's internal systems. Compaq's equipment represented the state-of-the-art when the first contract was signed, but the company chose to go with new suppliers this time around.

"We're disappointed that Celera is moving to another vendor and we wish them well as they pursue new scientific endeavors," an HP representative wrote to CNET News.com in an e-mail. "It should be remembered that Celera is only one of many Life Science discovery customers that HP has and that we are still the number one supplier of computing systems and infrastructure to the Life Science community world-wide."

Cool, but not popular
HP's Alpha chip and the servers based around it are like the art film of the processor world. Academics, analysts and benchmark testers have consistently praised the chip, originally devised by Digital. The National Science Foundation, among others, has installed Alpha supercomputers.

But the broad market has largely ignored it. Alpha servers have typically held less than 5 percent of the market. In the past, HP has said it will continue to support Alpha but steer customers toward computers containing the Itanium chip over the next few years.

Applera will use the IBM cluster to conduct research as well as run its business functions, an unusual configuration that is nonetheless growing in popularity.

"Typically, it is more segregated...but we see it happening more and more" said Peter Ungaro, vice president of high-performance computing at IBM. By using the same system for both, companies can maximize their hardware purchases, analysts have said.

 

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